The National Today

Brazilians hit by widespread shortages of food and fuel triggered by blockades, strike

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Brazil's trucker strike is crippling the nation; government's takeover of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion seems to have angered as many as it pleased; Belgian authorities say shooting of policewomen may have been terrorist act

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Striking truckers shout 'Get out Temer' on Monday as they protest rising fuel costs in front of a fuel distribution facility in Duque de Caxias, Brazil. The strike has caused shortages at gas stations and supermarkets across Latin America's biggest country. (Leo Correa/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


TODAY:

  • National strike by truckers in Brazil triggers widespread shortages of food, fuel
  • Federal government's decision to take over Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project seems to have angered as many as it pleased
  • Belgian authorities say shooting spree that left two policewomen and a civilian dead was possible act of terrorism
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


Brazil's blockade problem

A crippling national strike by Brazil's truck drivers is entering its ninth day, and another looming walkout by the country's oil workers threatens even more chaos.

Transport drivers protesting the high price of diesel fuel have been blockading highways since early last week, causing widespread shortages of fruits, vegetables, eggs and gasoline. Schools, hospitals and airports have been forced to shut down or cut back services as they run low on crucial supplies.

Two major sugar mills have closed their doors. The poultry industry, one of Brazil's major exporters, lost 64 million chicks due to feed shortages, with one billion more — and 20 million pigs — still in danger of starvation. Work at the huge Santos seaport, near Sao Paulo, has ground to a halt.

A market in Rio de Janeiro with little on its shelves due to the truckers strike. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
On Sunday it appeared that an end to the crisis was near after the government of President Michel Temer essentially surrendered. It offered to reduce the price of diesel by 46 real (16 cents Cdn) a litre for the next two months, do away with road tolls for empty trucks, and move from daily to monthly fuel price changes.

Finance Minister Eduardo Guardia said the temporary measures will cost Brazil's treasury almost 14 billion reais ($4.8 billion Cdn) once last week's concession on fuel taxes — a failed attempt to end the strike — is factored in. The shortfall will be made up via a combination of spending cuts and increased payroll taxes.

A gas station in Brasilia displays a sign reading 'No Gas' in Portuguese. The strike by truck drivers has paralyzed deliveries across Brazil. (Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images)
But despite their unions ratifying the agreement, many truckers have decided to continue the blockades, expressing their disdain for Brazil's politicians and the austerity measures that have followed the deep 2014-16 recession.

The disputes now threaten to derail the unpopular Temer's efforts to kickstart the struggling economy and move away from a system of price controls imposed by his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached and removed from office for cooking the government's books.

And the president's desperation for a deal with the truckers sets the stakes for the next labour confrontation, a threatened 72-hour national shutdown of refineries and gas stations by workers at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, scheduled to begin tomorrow night.

Cars and people line up for fuel in Luziania, Brazil. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)
The Unified Petroleum Union (FUP) is demanding a halt to the daily price adjustments for gasoline and cooking fuel, as well as diesel, and the firing of Petrobras CEO Pedro Parente.

Last week, Temer announced that he will not be seeking another term in October's presidential elections. A recent poll put his approval rating at just four per cent.


Pipeline politics

Ottawa was in a tight corner with regards to the planned twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, trying to referee a bitter fight between the governments of British Columbia and Alberta and still meet owner Kinder Morgan's May 31 deadline to guarantee that the project would go ahead.

But the solution unveiled this morning — a $4.5 billion deal to buy the old pipeline and have the feds take over the expansion project — seems to have angered as many as it pleased. And left some important questions unanswered.

Here's the social media spin:

And some of the bitter blow-back:

And today's deal may not solve the problem.

But it did brighten the day of the Texas-headquartered pipeline giant.


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Belgium attack

A petty thief and drug dealer, on a two-day furlough from a Belgian prison, attacked and killed two police officers and a civilian in the city of Liège this morning, in what authorities are calling a possible act of terrorism.  

The incident began around 10:30 a.m. on the edge of a historic downtown park, where the 36-year-old suspect stabbed two policewomen in the back with a boxcutter. He then took their service pistols and shot them both dead.

The attacker then shot and killed a 22-year-old man in his car, before heading into a neighbouring high school and taking two women hostage.

A police officer on the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, on Tuesday. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)
He was killed in a firefight with a police tactical squad a short time later. A number of officers were wounded in the gun battle, at least one seriously.

Belgian media have identified the assailant as Benjamin Herman, an "unstable and violent" inmate from a prison in the town of Marche-en-Famenne, about an hour south of Liège.

A former cellmate told the broadcaster RTBF that Herman had been "radicalized" in jail. "He told me that he was really a Muslim," said the ex-convict, identified only as "Bruno."

A local newspaper reports that witnesses heard the attacker shouting "Allahu Akbar" as he killed the policewomen. The French magazine Paris Match says that authorities at the jail have recovered a prayer mat and a Qur'an from the man's cell.

Police and forensic officers work on the scene of the shooting in Liege, Belgium, after a gunman shot dead two female police officers with their own weapons before also killing a bystander and taking hostages. (Eric Lamond/AFP/Getty Images)
Multiple media outlets are saying that Herman had been on the radar of Belgium's state security service since at least 2017. But if there were such concerns, it certainly didn't stop prison officials from regularly releasing him into the community.

Koen Geens, Belgium's minister of justice, confirmed that Herman — who was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2013 — had received 11 day passes and 13 two-day furloughs over the past couple of years, all of which passed without incident.

"It was therefore difficult to foresee that things would go badly the 14th time," Geens told reporters.

Belgian Special Police at the scene of the shooting in Liege on Tuesday. Several more officers were wounded in a shootout before police killed the attacker. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)
Belgium has been on high alert since a cell of Brussels-based supporters of the Islamic State carried out the November 2015 attacks on the Bataclan theatre and main football stadium in Paris, France, killing 130 people. Four months later the group struck again, setting off bombs at the Brussels airport and inside a subway train, killing 32 people.

Significant resources have been poured into campaigns to combat radicalization in places like Molenbeek, a poor district of Brussels with a large Arab population.

But Liège has experienced a different sort of terror. In December 2011, a convicted gun fanatic attacked a Christmas market in the town centre with pistols and grenades, killing five people and wounding 125, before taking his own life.

He had been released from jail 14 months earlier.


Quote of the moment

"Departments can implement our recommendations and deal with the symptoms we've raised, and that is important. But the real question for the government to think about is why do we keep finding and reporting serious problems, and why do incomprehensible failures still happen?"

- Michael Ferguson, Canada's auditor general, tables his annual spring report on Ottawa's boondoggles, including the Phoenix pay system, a debacle he blames on "fundamental failures" of management and oversight.

Canada's Auditor General Michael Ferguson speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie - RC1B108016A0 (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Hawaii's Kilauea volcano belches another plume of ash (CBC)
  • Developing cyclone threatens Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh (Al Jazeera)
  • At least 4,645 Puerto Ricans died from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, says new study (Washington Post)
  • 'Incredibly fierce' UBC graduate among activists detained in Saudi Arabia (CBC)
  • Ethiopian government frees 575 political prisoners (Africanews)
  • Nobel prize for literature could be suspended for more than a year (Guardian)
  • Pakistan 'gave' Osama bin Laden to the U.S., former spy chief claims (Asia Times)
  • Weezer bows to internet campaign, covers world's worst song (Digg)

Today in history

May 30, 2000: Walkerton's Stan Koebel faces the media

Six people were already dead and thousands sickened by the time the small Ontario town's utility manager finally showed his face in public. His lawyer did all the talking. Silence was a bit of a Koebel trademark — having delayed telling the public about the high levels of E. coli in the municipal water supply, with fatal consequences. Many suggested that Ontario government cutbacks had played a role in the tragedy. But Koebel was the only one who went to jail, serving four months of a year-long sentence.

Ontario Premier Mike Harris and Public Utilities Commissioner Stan Koebel face the media at the height of the contaminated water tragedy. 2:08

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.